Statement by Her Excellency Lana Nusseibeh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the UN, at the UNSC Meeting on the Situation in the Middle EAST, including the Palestinian Question

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November 22, 2023

Thank you, Mr. President.

I thank Executive Director Bahous, Executive Director Russell and Executive Director Kanem for their painful briefings. They highlight the critical turning point we have reached in Israel’s 47-day war on Gaza, that followed the October 7th attacks by Hamas on Israel, and the grave choices that lie before Israel in its prosecution of this war.

Just for the sense of scale, this war is taking place in a small yet high populated area. Its largest city, Gaza City, is more densely populated than New York. This tiny area is home to families who have spent decades trying to build normal lives as a community, despite repeated wars and displacement, and amidst an ongoing blockade.

Within this 25-mile-long strip, 12,000 locations have already been subjected to airstrikes, according to the Israeli government. This includes strikes on sites shielded by laws of war such as schools, hospitals, and refugee camps.

History shows that women and children are disproportionately impacted by conflict and Gaza is no exception.

In the past 47 days, children have become orphans, mothers have become childless, inter-generational families have been wiped out altogether by the largest indiscriminate aerial bombardment we have witnessed in the recent history of warfare.

It can therefore be no surprise to anyone that more than two-thirds of around 14,000 Palestinian fatalities are women and children.

Many of those killed were teachers, journalists, doctors, or children that were aspiring to become like those adults one day. From what we know of their lives and dreams and aspirations documented over the past months by brave journalists and ordinary people, it is that they did not want to grow up to become Hamas, nor did they ask to become the front line against Israel’s formidable military arsenal.

In Israel too, parents have grieved the unfathomable trauma of children taken hostage by Hamas into the Gaza Strip. The October 7th attack on Israel also brought horrific reports to the world of the killing of innocent civilians, and the torture and sexual violence against women, and they were rightly condemned and must be investigated with perpetrators held accountable.

Trauma has unleashed trauma in its response, and we are witnessing grief and horror of immense proportions, as well as the normalization of hate speech, dehumanization of the other across social media, and in the real world. There is also an alarming rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia unleashed as a result across the globe.

So this conflict is not compartmentalised and contained in the Gaza Strip, and it threatens to unleash forces that destabilize all of us. And that is why our efforts must scale up to defeat this rising tide of hatred.

We therefore welcome the announcement today of the agreed release of 50 women and children hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, and Palestinian women and children detained in Israel, as well as some additional aid to enter Gaza.  We thank the tireless mediation efforts of Qatar, Egypt and the United States as a welcome note of hope in what has been described as the darkest of days for the Palestinian people. We hope that the four-day truce announced can be extended to allow in the lifesaving humanitarian relief for the Palestinians in Gaza and the safe return of the remaining hostages there. Many lives hang in the balance in the coming days, and these numbers and faces have names.

The truce did not come in time to save countless lives like that of Dima Alhaj, a WHO staff member who worked at the Limb Reconstruction Centre in Gaza. She was killed yesterday with her 6-month-old baby, her husband and other family members. Dima and her baby should still be alive today, like all other women and children whose lives were cut short by this war. We offer our condolences yet again to the UN who have lost an unprecedented number of over 100 colleagues in this war.

The very high number of women, and particularly children, killed by this relentless bombardment is a strong indicator that international humanitarian law is being violated and its fundamental principles of distinction and proportionality are not being respected. There have been many debates about this in the media, but the numbers speak for themselves as do the indiscriminate bombing targets. This must stop immediately. There can be no justification for attacks that imperil large groups of civilians, especially women and children. The laws of war, especially for the protection of civilians, are not optional or reciprocal. And they apply to all, including Hamas, and must be abided by.

Mr. President,

In the West Bank too, Israel’s growing restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement is limiting women’s ability to provide for their families, preventing access to critical services, including medical care, and is interrupting children’s access to education. The numbers of Palestinians killed there since this latest round of the conflict in Gaza by extremist settlers, including 53 children, is another indicator that extreme ideologies are being mainstreamed today. This includes some Israeli government statements calling for the forced transfer of the Palestinian population. This must stop. Misinformation can lead to grave miscalculation and all government leaders are accountable for that.

Let me emphasise that what is at stake is not only the now — women’s and children’s lives, their well-being and their dignity — it is also their future. Women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in negotiating and working towards the two-state solution will be critical to secure a lasting and sustainable peace for Israelis and Palestinians. We are watching those peace makers lose their lives by the thousands.

Mr. President,

Ultimately, as UN officials have said, only a ceasefire will prevent further violence and suffering.

But in the meantime, we call for the full and urgent implementation of resolution 2712, adopted just last week, and we recall the Council’s request for the Secretary-General to give this Council the options to effectively monitor the implementation of this resolution as a matter of urgency.

We reiterate the need for safe, sustained, and at-scale humanitarian access throughout the entire Gaza strip and encourage all efforts to that end. And this must not be linked to hostage negotiations. We unequivocally reject that premise.

This, in addition to other diplomatic efforts, will help alleviate the desperate plight of women and children who were the priority of Council deliberations last week.

If there is one crisis in which this Council should deploy every tool at its disposal today, this is it. I would like to urge my colleagues to be creative and to break out of the paralysis of the status quo approach. Prioritizing efforts to stop the violence and to working towards the long-term resolution to this conflict is the only rational strategy to ensure security and stability for both Palestinians and Israelis. And Palestinian and Israeli women and children deserve a political horizon. We are seeing slip away any chance for a peaceful future, as we watch this war unfold. But we do not have to take that path, and clear choices lie ahead for Israel and for Hamas.

We have all felt anger, we’ve all felt despair, we’ve all felt helplessness as we have stared into the abyss of Gaza’s grief. But we must not act without the courage and the resilience that those innocents have shown and taught us these past weeks – and we should all feel angry if we fail them again today.

Thank you.

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